By Jim Gehman, Engagement Insider
While Jacksonville Jaguars veteran guard Zane Beadles was at the University of Utah, he was introduced to a young boy named Ryker, who would make a significant impression on his life.
"He had a brain tumor and he knew that he had a terminal brain tumor," Beadles said. "He was a huge Utah fan and our head coach got wind of it and invited him to a practice, and it kind of just snowballed from there. He ended up coming to a bunch of practices and games while he was going through his battle. So he was around us a lot.
"It had a big impact on me watching him go through that. As he progressed through his treatment obviously his health declined and he became less and less active. But when I first met him, he was running around and you could tell that he loved athletics and loved to be around the guys."
Ryker, who lost his battle with cancer in February of 2007, inspired Beadles, who had been drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2010, to begin giving back and helping charities in Denver and in his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah.
"I got involved with a place in Denver called Brent's Place that provides safe, clean housing for pediatric bone marrow recipients," Beadles said. "I started a program called Cakes for Cancer. I tried to tie it into the O-line. And what I would do is for every pancake block that a Broncos offensive lineman got, I donated $250 to Brent's Place.
"After a couple years I kind of looked at it and said I'd like to start my own foundation and have a little bit more control over the money that we raised and take it to the next step. Giving back to the community was always a big thing for me and something that I knew I always wanted to do. Starting my own foundation was something that I thought I wanted to accomplish in my life."
In 2013, he founded the Zane Beadles Parade Foundation.
"A bunch of my friends, we'd sit and talk with each other and try to figure out what animal each of us would be if we were animals," Beadles said. "And it came out that I would be an elephant. It's kind of become a part of my life and when I was looking at the foundation, research and stuff, in a lot of cultures, elephants represent strength and good luck.
"They're intelligent animals, they're very emotional, and they group in packs that are almost like their families. Elephants are some of the only animals that mourn when somebody in their group passes away.
"They were just a lot of quality things that represented what we wanted to try to be and try to do as a foundation. So it kind of just turned into the Parade Foundation, where we try to think that everybody that we help becomes a part of our parade."
A 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, the foundation is actively involved with Brent's Place, as well as the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville and Ronald McDonald House in Salt Lake City.
"The money that we raise in each community, we try to keep in that community as best as we can," Beadles said. "Obviously, there are expenses with running a foundation, but that's important to me to try to keep the money that's raised in the community. Most people want to donate for things that impact them and their lives.
"The ultimate goal, we want to try to build facilities similar to Brent's Place. We've already started gathering information and where the need is in Jacksonville. We're in the process right now of looking for real estate or places that we can convert into some safe clean housing.
"For anybody that doesn't know, the problem with bone marrow transplant recipients is that their immune systems become compromised after their treatments. So they can't just stay in a hotel. Normally, the child would have to stay in the hospital and their family would have to get a hotel nearby. And the average stay is over 100 days for these kids, so obviously that's a financial and an emotional burden for them.
"(The facilities will be) two-bedroom apartments that are constructed and cleaned in ways that are approved by the hospital for the kids to be able to stay there. They can stay there with their family and with other families that are in similar situations. So it's a community of people that are going through the same thing at the same time."
This month, Beadles was named as the Jaguars' nominee for the annual Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a player for the commitment he has demonstrated in helping others in the community.
"It's definitely a huge honor," Beadles said. "The reason why I do what I do is not for any recognition or anything like that. But obviously, it's always good when you work so hard and pour your heart into something. For it to be noticed as something good in the community, that's a huge honor for the (Jaguars) organization to nominate me."